Belize Travel Guide
Modern gas stations—Texaco, Uno, Sol, Puma, and other brands, some of them with convenience stores and 24-hour service—are in Belize City and most major towns and along major highways in Belize. In more remote areas, especially in the south, fill up the tank whenever you see a station. Unleaded gas costs around BZ$12 a U.S. gallon. Diesel fuel is slightly less. Most stations have attendants who pump gas for you. They don't expect a tip, though they are happy to accept it. Most stations now accept credit cards.
Prices at Guatemala's service stations aren't quite as high as in Belize. At most stations an attendant will pump the gas and make change. Plan to use cash, as credit cards sometimes aren't accepted.
In Belize City, with its warren of narrow and one-way streets, downtown parking is often at a premium. For security, try to find a guarded, fenced parking lot, and don't leave your car on the street overnight. Elsewhere, except in some areas of San Ignacio and Orange Walk Town, there's plenty of free parking.
There are no parking meters in Belize. In most cities and towns parking rules are laxly enforced, although cars with license plates from another district of Belize or a foreign country may attract a ticket.
All four main roads in Belize—the George Price Highway (formerly Western Highway), Philip Goldson Highway (formerly Northern Highway), Southern Highway, and Hummingbird Highway—are completely paved. These two-lane roads are generally in good condition. The once-horrendous Placencia Road is now completely paved. At this writing the road to Hopkins is scheduled for paving in late 2013 or 2014. The San Antonio Road from the Southern Highway near Punta Gorda to the Guatemala border is being upgraded and paved as of this writing. Signage is good along the main highways; large green signs direct you to major sights.
Elsewhere in Belize, expect fair to stupendously rough dirt, gravel, and limestone roads; a few unpaved roads, and occasionally stretches of even paved roads, may be impassable at times in the rainy season.
Immense improvements have been made to Guatemala's ravaged roads. A highway from Río Dulce to Tikal has cut travel time along this popular route significantly. In the Petén, the road from Belize toward Tikal has a few short stretches near the border without pavement, but after that, both to Tikal and to Flores, it’s paved and in excellent condition. Roads in remote areas are frequently unpaved, rife with potholes, and treacherously muddy in the rainy season. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for travel off the beaten path. In cities, expect narrow brick streets. Road signs are generally used to indicate large towns; smaller towns may not be so clearly marked. Look for intersections where people seem to be waiting for a bus—that's a good sign that there's an important turnoff nearby.
When renting a car, ask the agency what it does if your car breaks down in a remote area. Most agencies in Belize send a driver with a replacement vehicle or a mechanic to fix the car. For help in Guatemala, your best bet is to call the National or Tourist Police. In either country, consider renting a cell phone, or buy a cheap local cell phone or a local SIM card for your own unlocked cell phone.
Belize Police (911 for police and other emergencies nationwide; 90 for police, fire, and ambulance in Belize City only.)
Guatemalan National Police. The local equivalent of 911 in Guatemala is 110 or 120. 110 for emergencies; 120 for emergencies; 501/2421-2810 police.
Guatemalan Tourist Police. POLITUR (Tourist Police) is a joint National Police and INGUAT tourism service. 502/2421–2810 for 24-hour security information provided by INGUAT; 1/500 POLITUR, for emergencies.
Rules of the Road
Driving in Belize and Guatemala is on the right. Seat belts are required, although the law is seldom enforced. There are few speed-limit signs, and speed limits are rarely enforced. However, as you approach villages and towns watch out for "sleeping policemen," a local name for speed bumps. The entire country of Belize has only about a dozen traffic lights, and only Belize City and downtown San Ignacio have anything approaching congestion. One unusual aspect of driving in Belize, likely a hold-over from British Honduras days when driving was on the left, is that vehicles turning left against traffic are not supposed to hold up cars behind them; instead, they are supposed to pull over to the right and wait for a break in traffic to turn.
Despite the relatively small number of private cars in Belize, traffic accidents are the nation's number one cause of death. Belizean drivers aren't always as skilled as they think they are, and drunk drivers can be a problem. Guatemala's narrow roads and highways mean you can be stuck motionless on the road for an hour while a construction crew stands around a hole in the ground. Always allow extra travel time for such unpredictable events, and bring along snacks and water. In both Belize and Guatemala, be prepared to stop for police traffic checks. Usually tourists in rental cars are checked only cursorily. Otherwise, if you observe the rules you follow at home, you'll likely do just fine. Just don't expect everyone else to follow them.